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One of my favorite Steve Jobs anecdotes is the story of the iPod development. Apple Engineers kept bringing revised versions of the iPod to Jobs and he kept sending them back, insisting that it be made smaller. Finally, they told him they had achieved the smallest version possible. Steve Jobs then threw it in an adjacent aquarium where it emitted air bubbles as it sank to the bottom. I imagine he cocked an eyebrow as he sent the engineers back again with the comment that if there was room for air, it could be made smaller.
I now mourn the passing of my eight-year-old iPod nano. Carelessly left in my jean’s pocket, she fell prey to the dastardly washer-dryer cycle. I tried to revive her, poor thing. She had served me faithfully and survived much abuse. Alas, it was not to be, and with her demise she took with her a dozen audiobooks I had hoarded. You see, my ancient fifth generation was one of the last of its kind—not blue tooth enabled. This meant that I had to manually connect it to my Mac to download library audiobooks using Overdrive installed on my Mac. Once transferred to my iPod the audiobooks remained until I chose to listen to them. This is like an alcoholic having a full case of liquor; like a junkie with a kilo of heroin; like a carnivore with a freezer full of rib eyes. Like any addict, I loved knowing I could always get my fix.
So, it was with a heavy heart and shaky hand when I transitioned to library audiobooks on my iPhone. I knew that this was how many people listened to audiobooks these days, but I was reluctant to do so as then I would have to abide by the same three-week check out period as everyone else. My problem with this is that at any given time I have about twenty books on hold and they have an uncanny tendency to all become available simultaneously. And even I can only listen to two or three a week. (Sigh.)
Still, once I had no choice, I faced the future. It was surprisingly easy. If you haven’t tried listening to library audiobooks on your phone, here’s how: First, go to the APP store on your phone and download the free Overdrive app. You will need to put in which California libraries you use and your library numbers and PIN numbers. (I have three cards, but mostly use Shasta County and San Francisco.) Thankfully, there is a place where you can check to remember this, so you only need to do this once. You now have the Overdrive Icon on your phone and can access the library collection and your account. When you download an audiobook (or ebook) it is almost instantaneous! I have to grudgingly admit that I’m impressed. And I suppose if I don’t have a chance to listen to a book in the allotted three weeks I can always get back in the hold queue to check it out again. Good things (and free things) are worth waiting for.
I do have three great listening opportunities to share with you. In the spirit of accepting that change does happen, let’s look first to Yuval Noah Harari, an Oxford educated Israeli historian and the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. His new book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, is an incisive and innovative look at plausible future scenarios. Harari has a knack for taking complicated information and making it understandable to even low-tech people like me. Sobering but provocative, this tome may not have all the answers, but it certainly has all the questions. And maybe that’s where we need to start. Warning: after you listen to this, you may want to invest in the hardback—I did.
My next two suggestions are by an author I just discovered and with whom I’m completely infatuated. Derek B. Miller has a PhD in International Relations and works as an International Affairs Specialist; his experience and erudition shines through in his books. I listened to his latest novel, The Girl In Green first. Adequately narrated by Will Damon, this 12.5 hour action-packed thriller made me erupt with laughter and moved me to tears—a wonderful, terrible thing. The story begins in 1991, one hundred miles from the Kuwaiti border. Thomas Benton, a seasoned British war correspondent has an interaction with US Army private Atwood Hobbes that sets into motion the quest they will share twenty-two years later. Don’t miss this one—I expect it to take some awards.
After I wrote my Goodreads review of The Girl In Green, I noticed others comparing it to Miller’s 2013 novel Norwegian By Night. Short-listed for seven literary awards and winner of the Crime Writer’s Association John Creasey Dagger award for a debut crime novel, this is again a novel of war and the aftermath of war—Korean, Vietnamese and Balkan. The protagonist, Sheldon Horowitz, an 82-year-old Jewish widower from New York, has recently immigrated to Oslo to live with his granddaughter and her Norwegian husband who both think he might be slipping into senility. In Norway, Sheldon witnesses a murder and has only the skills he learned as a sniper in the Marine Corps sixty years before to protect himself and the victim’s young son. Loaded with relevant and canny observations on everything from aging and widowhood to the impact of Muslim immigrants in Western Europe, this is a stimulating and thought-provoking listening experience.
More and more it seems to me that the world is changing far too rapidly. I’m trying hard to learn and adapt; I endeavor to embrace growth, but sometimes I think I’m stretched to the snapping point. So, I focus on the small, doable things. Like remembering to check my pockets before I load the washing machine.